A few years ago, a group of us were gathered in our home- for small group or for worship or for feeding our neighbors, I can’t rightly remember- and in the course of conversation about grace and shame, one of our friends spoke up and shut down the conversation with a handful of words:
What are you talking about? I think guilt is one of the greatest motivators of all time. he said with a grin across his face. People who feel guilty change their behaviors and do what they’re supposed to do.
The rest of the group, which was made up of old believers and new believers and and not-quite-yet-believers, clamped their mouths shut and literally shrank down into their chairs. The jovial, life-giving conversation that had once filled the room ceased the minute he opened his mouth. Faced with an attentive audience, he continued to build his case for guilt, each word louder than the one before it, each claim backed up with straight out of the Bible truth, taken straight out of context.
Good ol’ fashioned guilt coupled with the a hefty dose of scripture delivered by an ordained, seminary trained pastor in a small, house church was enough to make every one of us squirm in our seats under the weight of Satan’s best tool:
In a handful of minutes, in a room where we had worked to foster a place of vulnerability, this guy had come into our home and used his size (he was a super tall guy), his biblical knowledge and his pastoral training to effectively send our people into hiding. Oh, the room was still full. But everyone’s heart was tucked somewhere deep inside their chests.
If he uttered the words love or grace or forgiveness, I cannot remember.
All I remember is what it felt like to be at the mercy of a man who seemed to delight in reminding me of my guilt.
And it felt terrible- not because guilt is a bad thing, because it’s not. Guilt helps me acknowledge my need for Jesus.
It felt terrible because he had used guilt to try and shame me into forgetting that I was loved by Jesus no matter what I had done.
He had used guilt to shame me into feeling alone and isolated in my sin. He had used guilt to shame me into feeling judged by Jesus and by others. He had used guilt to reorient my focus from Jesus and onto my sin and Satan took that friend’s moment of soapbox glory to whisper his best lie right into my closed up heart: See? You are not worthy to be loved.
Brene’ Brown defines shame this way:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
I think shame is our enemy’s tool of choice. It’s pretty much the one emotion he can heap on us that will isolate us from others and from God. Shame keeps us so inwardly focused, wallowing in our own feelings of unworthiness, that we no longer desire to be a part of any community, particularly the Christian community. We may continue to show up in community, but our hearts and souls are so far removed from true relationships with others and with God, that we are little more than shells of the people God intends for us to be.
Shame is the silent killer in the Church.
For some of us, the shame we carry around causes us to withdraw from others and hide out. We never open up in small group. Our prayer requests are never personal, always about our brother’s uncle’s left foot. We decline invitations to serve or be a part of the group. Shame causes us to hunker down and hide in hopes that we can preserve self.
For others of us, shame propels us into people pleasing and over commitment. We are happy with whatever, whenever while seething on the inside. We over-perform, serving in the nursery and teaching classes and hosting everything under the sun. Shame causes us to perform for acceptance and praise in hopes that we can prove our worth.
And still for others of us, shame moves us to lash out or use power over others we deem less than ourselves. We use our biblical prowess to beat others down and puff ourselves us. We hold authority over people and use truth like a bazooka in order to guilt them into righteous behavior. We tell our story of conversion not to proclaim the Jesus who rescued out of the pits, but to remind people of how we do not sin. Shame causes us to become self-righteous in hopes that by our good living, Jesus will love us.
Shame is the tool that the enemy uses to divide and conquer us.
Shame is how he makes healthy churches sick because shame challenges the very Gospel that binds us together.
If we do not believe that we are fallible human beings worthy of love, despite who we are and what we have done, how can we proclaim a Jesus who was LOVE made flesh, sent to earth to die as ransom for all our sins by a God who so LOVED this world that He would send His only Son to die?
Simply put, we can’t.
The health of the Church depends on our ability to conquer shame.
This is the third post in a series called Healthy Church.